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Match Of The Day: Hawks hang on in ripping clash of rivals

Delight and despair. Hawthorn’s James Worpel and Essendon’s Michael Hurley hear the siren in the Hawks’ thrilling four-point win. Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Match Of The Day: Hawks hang on in ripping clash of rivals

Rohan Connolly    

High stakes. High standard. High drama. Really, you couldn’t ask for much more from a game of football than was delivered in Hawthorn’s amazing four-point win over Essendon at the MCG on Saturday.

Where do you start? The innumerable swings of momentum? The hold-your-breath moments of critical goals overturned and free kick advantages paid and not paid? The superb individual performances of Hawthorn forward Jack Gunston, defender Ben Stratton, possession machine Tom Mitchell or star Bomber on-baller Zach Merrett?

Perhaps we should start with the bottom line. Which is that Hawthorn’s victory pushed it (at least temporarily) to third spot on the ladder rather than seventh. And that defeat for Essendon probably spells the end of the Bombers’ finals hopes.

It was that fine a line. And in the end, perhaps just one or two turnovers and marginally more precise kicks to targets were all that separated the two teams.

It was a game which swung wildly not once but twice in the first half alone, Essendon both times exploding out of the blocks, and on both occasions Hawthorn reeling the Bombers in, the second time with added interest.

Essendon certainly got the start it wanted. It had a goal on the board within 90 seconds after a patient build-up, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti doing the honours. The Dons were finding plenty of space, and Jake Stringer benefited to lead, mark and convert a long ball from Orazio Fantasia.

And Essendon looked slick indeed as Conor McKenna dobbed the third without reply, on the run after a quickfire exchange of handballs through the middle of the ground. Hawthorn looked caught on the back foot. But when the Hawks found their feet, they did so in style.

Ricky Henderson got the first after a clever kick around the corner from Jack Gunston, Isaac Smith had a second less than two minutes later, beating Bomber veteran Brendon Goddard out the back. And a beautiful coast-to-coast carry from the Hawks gave Gunston another. All square again.

The start of second term was for all purposes an action replay. Essendon shot out to a 20-point lead in under six minutes as Mark Baguley, McKenna again and Stringer, the latter from a tight angle, all found the target.

The Dons looked well on top. But it didn’t last long. Hawthorn’s counter this time was even more potent as it slammed on the next five goals of the game in just 12 minutes.

Gunston goalled again. Luke Breust bobbed up with two in a row, the first after a superb effort from youngster Harry Morrison, who somehow beat Goddard in a one-on-one running with the flight of the ball, the second after a bad turnover from Bomber David Zaharakis.

Essendon wasn’t helping itself with those sorts of errors, and a silly 50-metre penalty cost them another goal, Ben Stratton’s resultant long kick from the middle of the ground just contacted by Ricky Henderson as the ball bounced through.

Another coughing up of the ball, from Bomber skipper Dyson Heppell, had Smith running on to a loose ball and suddenly it was Hawthorn leading by 11 points, a margin it maintained at half-time after an exchange of goals from either side.

By this stage, Mitchell was causing Essendon all sorts of headaches, already with 29 disposals to his name. So was Stratton at the other end, constantly peeling off to intercept Bomber attacks.

But yet again, Essendon managed to burst out in front at the beginning of the second half with five of the first six goals. Mark Baguley first, then Mitch Brown, then Cale Hooker, another huge performer, bombing one from all of 60 metres.

Hawk ruckman Jonathon Ceglar stemmed the flow after outmarking opponent Tom Bellchambers, but the Bomber hit back with a mark and goal of his own. Then Baguley again. Was this the breaking point? No, because, as this amazing unfolding storyline demanded, Hawthorn came again.

Gunston again. Breust. Brendan Whitecross. Ryan Schoenmakers went off the ground in the goalsquare and hit the post. So five points the Hawks’ way, 30 season-defining minutes left. Who knew what would happen next?

But in a game which seemed to have a mind of its own, the first 17 minutes of the last quarter was arguably where the game was won.

In that period, Hawthorn refused to let Essendon play its most dangerous breakneck speed game. The Hawks controlled the tempo, unhurriedly picked their way around the ground. And had the cooler heads.

Brendon Goddard was pinged for over-stepping on a kick-in. It might end up being the costliest lapse of Essendon’s season. Gunston bobbed up again at the resultant ball-up with a kick in mid-air, the first goal of the term coming only after 10 minutes.

When he dobbed another from 50 metres, it was 21 points to the Hawks, Essendon looking out on its feet despite having had an extra day-and-a-half preparation, and perhaps even a bigger margin about to be built.

Silly of us to think it, really, in retrospect. This game had a final twist or two left. Essendon threw Cale Hooker forward in desperation with effect. From a goalsquare contest, a snap by Andy McGrath gave the Bombers just a smidgeon of hope.

Controversy followed. David Zaharakis was pinged for holding the ball. James Worpel decided to take the advantage then stopped.

Umpires of late have chosen to give the player in such situations the benefit of the doubt. This time they didn’t, the ball was turned over, rushed to the other end, and Stringer made it 11 points the difference, five minutes remaining.

Now it was Essendon surging again. Merrett missed a snap but Hooker bobbed up with a goalsquare grab. By the time he slammed it home, the clock was down to one minute and 41 seconds left, an epic finish looming.

Which, of course, it was. Worpel didn’t need to be chastened about his advantage blunder for long. From the next attack, he beat Michael Hurley in a one-on-one and raced in for the match-winner, 10 points the difference and now just 35 seconds left.

Even then the action wasn’t over, Travis Colyer taking advantage from a Bomber free kick and launching the longest kick of his career from outside 50. There was 13 seconds left. It came down to one centre clearance. Hawthorn won it, Ceglar banged the ball forward and victory was finally theirs.

There has been some incredible games played between these two rivals of the past 30 years. This one deserves to be ranked very high in that long catalogue.

HAWTHORN 3.1 9.3 13.5 16.11 (107)
ESSENDON 3.3 7.4 12.5 16.7 (103)
GOALS – Hawthorn: Gunston 5, Breust 3, Smith 2, Henderson 2, Roughead, Whitecross, Ceglar, Worpel. Essendon: Baguley 3, Stringer 3, McKenna 2, Hooker 2, Bellchambers, Fantasia, Brown, McDonald-Tipungwuti, McGrath, Colyer
BEST – Hawthorn: Gunston, Mitchell, Stratton, O’Meara, Henderson, Burton. Essendon: Z.Merrett, Hooker, McDonald-Tipungwuti, Stringer, Smith, Fantasia.
INJURIES – Essendon: Dea (concussion) replaced in selected side by McNiece, Guelfi (illness) replaced in selected side by Colyer.
CROWD: 68,857 at the MCG.

1 Comment
  1. You would like to think that the Bombers have shown enough in the second half of 2018 to suggest a bright future. But then we were all saying that at the end of last season. Hooker and Hurley are now approaching their 30’s, Goddard probably done, Daniher a little X factor but there is no denying the team performed better (structurally) without him and to a lesser extent Stewart. Players like Laverde, Langford, Redman, still yet to truly break out. Midfield runs deeper but probably lacks a genuine superstar who can break a game open off his own boot. I am a frustrated Essendon member. This club has made a fine art out of mediocrity. We have sadly become the new Richmond and next year will see the club past it’s longest Premiership drought.

    The good news is – we ain’t Carlton. (Yet they even beat us!!!)

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